Orpana, Rajala lead offense en route to national championship
One was voted the most valuable player of the regular season, and the other led all skaters in goals. When push came to shove in Finland’s U16 SM-Series playoffs, both Eetu Orpana and Joonas Rajala were up to the task.
On Saturday, top-seeded Tappara completed the two-game sweep of No. 5 TPS with a dominant 6-1 win. It completed a near-perfect playoff run in which Tappara went 6-1-0, sweeping its opponents in the semifinal and championship rounds. A storied program in the country, it is the first time since 1998 that the club has won the U16 national championship.
After a scoreless first period, Orpana and Rajala burst the scoring wide open with three consecutive goals in an eight-minute span. It’s something they’ve made a habit of this season, as Orpana scored 35 goals and 80 points and Rajala totaled 38 goals and 73 points. The duo finished No. 1 and 2 in scoring among 2007-born skaters in the country. Additionally, they both notched 12 points in seven playoff games.
Orpana is a physical presence at 6-foot, right in the heart of the offense as the team’s top line center. The 5-foot-9 Rajala is a bit shiftier and crafty with the puck as a left-handed shooter on the off-wing. That tandem fueled Tappara all season long as they were a mainstay in Finland’s Top 10.
Tappara’s team offense tough to contain in playoffs
Finland’s U16 SM-Series playoffs is one of the more unique tournaments in youth hockey. With best-of-three series and four rounds, it’s the closest thing to resembling the NHL Playoffs as anything at this age level can get.
After a first-round bye, Tappara opened up with 10-seed HIFK. Seven goals from six different skaters allowed HIFK to pull off a stunning upset of Tappara 7-3 in Game 1. After that, it was all Tappara as they bounced back to win both Game 2 and Game 3 to advance to the semifinals. There, they made quick work of KalPa, out-scoring the No. 6 seed 7-1 in two games.
In the U16 SM-Series Finals, Tappara’s offense was just too much for TPS to keep down.
Rajala and Orpana led an offensive attack that scored six goals in Game 1. First-period tallies by Juho Kuisma and Lennart Louvanto put Tappara out in front in the first nine minutes of the game. That lead — while TPS was able to cut into it at times — would not be relinquished, as they pulled away late in a 6-3 final.
The offense was a bit delayed in the championship, as the two teams skated to a scoreless first period. Once Orpana and Rajala broke through in the second period, however, the floodgates soon opened. Atte Joki made it 4-0 with less than two minutes to go in the period, set up by Rajala. And after the second intermission, Eemil Kokkonen and Elias Paavola would increase the lead to 6-0 with back-to-back goals four minutes apart.
TPS scored a goal late to make it a 6-1 final. It marked the third consecutive game that Tappara’s offense eclipsed the five-goal mark. As a team, they achieved that feat 29 times this season, finishing as the No. 1 seed in the tournament and ultimately, overall champion of the U16 age group.